Washington and Lincoln are smashed together on this day despite their differences.
Their historic legacies fading, both presidents with their familiar images exist in a strange realm of all-American satire, advertising, burlesque. Washington appears in a Geico commercial, his boat pulled across the Delaware turnpike as horns honk, and he crankily responds.
Lincoln's flag-draped portrait decorates auto dealer ads and mattress sales.
The South's smoldering hatred of Lincoln after the Civil War lingers in the holiday's spotty observation in the states of the old Confederacy. Our dutiful city of Atlanta sanitation department carried out its Monday garbage pickup as usual.
Washington owned slaves; Lincoln ended slavery. Washington, the first president, was the father of his country. HIs native state, Virginia, led the Confederacy, which Lincoln defeated. Lincoln, with his Gettysburg Address, is seen as completing the union that Washington began. Yet, Lincoln's assassination and the resulting failure of Reconstruction brought nearly a century more of oppression of blacks.
Countless books have been written about each of them. Each is remembered with a monument in the nation's capital. Each flickers in our collective memory. more myth than real men.
In the South, many saw Robert E. Lee as Washington's successor, as a native Virginian and as a general like Washington leading a ragtag army against a stronger foe. That Lee, unlike Washington, eventually failed made him more heroic across the defeated South.
Now, the tide is turning against Lee, increasingly seen as a traitor. Statues of Lee thrown up after Reconstruction across the South have been removed.
Along with fellow Virginian and slaveowner Thomas Jefferson, Washington's image has suffered. Yet no move has gained force to strike his portrait from the dollar, or tear down his statues, or change the name of the nation's capital. Washington's nobility in winning the nation's independence from Britain and as the nation's first president establishing the republic outweighs his slave ownership.
As the country falls apart, and Congress and the current president make spurious efforts to improve the country's "infrastructure," Lincoln should also be remembered for the transcontinental railroad and other economic programs.
Washington and Lincoln. What do they mean for us, when children are slaughtered in their schools, Lincoln's party grows ever more racist, the nation is bogged down in interminable wars, Russia meddles in elections?
Their lives and words recede from the nation's memory. How many even know the historical origins of that Geico ad?